NU climbs standings carrying a big pitch

Coley Harvey

Softball

After Northwestern pitching allowed only two runs and seven hits in one of its most memorable games of the season Saturday, a 14-2 win over Michigan State, the Big Ten updated its online pitching leaderboard Monday.

No. 15 NU (35-12, 15-1 Big Ten) ranked second in the conference with a 1.30 ERA. NU pitchers also had the second-lowest opposing batting average with a .167 mark.

The Wildcats are second in each category to No. 1 Michigan (48-4, 13-2), their opponent this weekend in a series that will decide the regular season Big Ten champion.

These second-place notches are the result of throwing lots of strikes and getting ahead of hitters in counts, coach Kate Drohan said.

“I like really aggressive pitchers,” Drohan said. “Pitchers that like to attack, I think that leads to a lot of strikeouts.”

Drohan’s three pitchers — junior Courtnay Foster and sophomores Eileen Canney and Megan Hinck — have struck out the conference’s fourth most batters with 342.

Foster is fifth among Big Ten pitchers with 206 strikeouts.

“Our pitchers have had some great weekends, and that’s why we’ve been able to be so consistent in the Big Ten,” Drohan said after last weekend’s split with Michigan State.

But it’s been mid-week games that have caused the Cats some concern. Over the last couple of weeks, NU has not been consistent against local, mid-week opponents.

Two weeks ago NU lost to Illinois-Chicago, and last week the pitching staff gave up four runs in the bottom of the seventh to Notre Dame after leading 3-0 entering the inning.

Foster said the feel of mid-week games is different for the Cats than the feel of conference games.

“It’s a totally different atmosphere,” Foster said. “It’s a combination of the games not having the same conference-game importance and the fact that it’s the middle of the week.”

During the week is when the Cats try to focus more on schoolwork, Foster said.

Even with that different atmosphere, Foster said the Cats try to approach every game the same — as a “must-win situation.”

“Those games are the time when we try to focus on little things, such as gauging umpire strike zones and hitting certain spots with certain pitches,” Foster said.

In an effort to focus on those “little things,” Drohan said she and her coaching staff try to split up the mid-week games so that her pitchers are less focused on pitching complete games.

“Instead, they’re going three or four strong innings,” Drohan said.

NU hopes to get 14 strong innings of offense and pitching at 3 p.m. today when it faces DePaul in a doubleheader at Sharon J. Drysdale Field.

Reach Coley Harvey at [email protected]